I had never had khao soi prior to moving to the United States. As a matter of fact, Roni introduced me to it. It was right when we started dating that she told me about this insanely delicious Thai soup that I would love. She went on to explain that when she was backpacking in Thailand she went to Chiang Mai in the north almost exclusively to hunt the dish down in its native region. She kept going on and on about it, but honestly I just couldn’t wrap my head around it, until one day she took me to a Thai restaurant that she knew served a decent khao soi.
When I first tasted it I wasn’t that impressed. I think she got the vegetarian one, so it may have been that, but I recall thinking that the dish wasn’t anything special, or at least it wasn’t anything special to my sophisticated Eastern European palette. I think she got a bit offended by my indifference towards her favorite Thai dish, so she made it her mission to prove how good it was. She told me that there was another Thai place that was closed for remodeling at the time, but once it reopened she would take me there so I could have what she thought to be the closest to the khao soi in Chiang Mai.
After a few months the Thai place re-opened its doors so we went to check it out. As I was going through the menu I saw that their version of Khao Soi was actually made with chicken. It instantly got my attention. Funny thing is that I still didn’t order it anyway. I have this weird habit of not ordering what Roni does, even if it’s my favorite dish on the menu. The way I think about it is that I will taste it anyway if she’s ordering it so why not trying something else as well?
Well, my principle bit me in the ass this time. As soon as they brought out her khao soi I immediately knew I made a huge mistake. It looked so appetizing: fresh Thai basil, cilantro, bean sprouts and crisp red onions on top of this bright yellow fragrant soup. As she stirred it I saw noodles and a whole braised chicken leg which I thought I would surely get because Roni generally only eats white meat. I smelled it and was mesmerized by its curry fragrance. I managed to get a taste of it which finally led me to understand why she loved it so much and what a fool I was for not trusting her taste. To add to my misery, I didn’t end up getting the chicken leg, because apparently Roni’s dark chicken meat rules don’t apply when it comes to khao soi.
I played it cool, finished my dish and said that I could make a better khao soi at home anyway. She challenged me to prove it, which lead me to come up with this recipe. I experimented with several recipes I found online, but none of them seemed good enough, so I created my own version. Most importantly, Roni—who has had many versions of the real deal in Thailand--loves my recipe. In fact I just watched her polish off the last bowl of leftovers. Gin Hai Aroy!
Chicken Khao Soi
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
- 4 dried guajillo chilies (or pasilla chilies)
- 2 medium shallots, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
- 2 inches ginger, crushed and roughly chopped
- 2-4 Thai chilies, roughly chopped (amount depends on your desired spice level)
- 1/2 cup cilantro stems, roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 TBS ground coriander seeds
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 TBS red curry paste
- 2 1/2 lbs skin-on chicken leg quarters, bone in (about 4 whole legs or 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 TBS vegetable oil
- 28oz coconut milk (2x14oz cans)
- 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 tsp clam juice
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 2 TBS soy sauce
- 1/2 TBS palm sugar (or brown sugar), optional
- 1 cup pickled mustard greens, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- 1 medium lime juiced (about 3 TBS fresh lime juice)
- 1 lb egg noodles
- 1 TBS kosher salt
- bean sprouts
- Thai basil leaves
- red onions, sliced
- cilantro leaves
- lime wedges
- crispy chicken skin
- In a small sauce pan bring 2 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Place the dried chilies in the pan and using a spoon submerge them under the boiling water. Cover the pan with a lid, remove from heat and let the chilies soak.
- Using paper towels pat the chicken legs dry. Make sure you don’t miss a spot otherwise you risk burning yourself with splattering hot oil.
- Remove the skin from the chicken legs. For best results use a paper towel to grab the skin (that way it won’t slip out of your hand) at the bottom of the thigh and pull upwards.
- Set skin and chicken aside on a large tray and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Add oil to a large and deep stainless steel frying pan. Place chicken skin in the oil and heat the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil starts shimmering reduce the heat to medium and cook the skin for about 5 minutes. Turn on the other side and cook until it becomes brown and crispy.
- Transfer the skin to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.
- You should have enough fat in the pan, but if it’s running low add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil. Raise the heat to high until the grease easily slides across the pan.
- Carefully place the chicken legs in the pan and sear them for about 10 minutes on each side.
- While the chicken is searing, transfer the chilies from the hot water to a food processor removing the stems in the process. Keep 1/3 cup of soaking liquid. Discard the rest.
- Add the rest of the ingredients under Paste to the food processor. Puree until it reaches the consistency of a smooth paste, about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
- When the chicken developed a nice brown sear on each side, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Add the curry paste to the hot pan and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Pour in coconut milk, chicken broth, clam juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Stir well to combine and bring to a boil.
- Place the chicken and juices from the bowl into the boiling sauce. Reduce heat to low and let it simmer for 25 minutes.
- Add pickled mustard greens, cilantro and lime juice. Give it a last stir, cover and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. It’s done!
- Fill a large pot halfway with water. Add a tablespoon salt and bring water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook per the instructions on the package. It usually takes about 3-5 minutes to cook egg noodles so be careful not to overcook them.
- When the noodles are done, drain them and discard the water.
- Time to prepare the bowls for serving. Divide the noodles and place them in large soup bowls. Using a large spoon or ladle transfer soup and chicken on top of the noodles. Serve hot.
- Add the toppings of your choice. Using your hands crush the chicken skin into bite sizes and sprinkle on top of the soup.
- For a vegetarian version replace chicken with tofu, vegetables or a mix of the two and the chicken stock with low sodium vegetable broth. Also, replace the clam juice and fish sauce with vegetarian options.
- Palm sugar, red curry and pickled mustard greens can be purchased at most Asian stores.
- I prefer using air chilled chicken, especially when pan frying it. The regular one has a high water content and will splatter hot oil when placed in a hot pan.